Universal Pictures internationally released their final instalment of E. L. James’ erotic novel adaptation today, with Fifty Shades Freed concluding one of the highest grossing and possibly most abominable film series’ in recent cinema history. With an increasingly questionable and sordid plot, obvious lack of acting integrity and a very misogynistic perspective on romantic relationships, the narrative of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) has been at the centre of continual media backlash since the release of the first film in 2015. But, despite such fundamental flaws, Fifty Shades of Grey retains the title as the highest grossing 18-rated film in UK box office history and droves of audience members continue to attend international screenings. The first and second films have made an extortionate $700 million. So, what still appeals to people and how have such critically panned films had such undeniable success?
Much to critics disapproval, the controversy of the series has been the sole determiner in selling such a huge record-breaking amount of cinema tickets. The first novel’s release in 2011 sparked widespread hysteria and the attention crowned Fifty Shades as the fastest selling British paperback of all time. Following wealthy businessman Christian in his pursuit of naive student Ana, the narrative offers raunchy, unapologetic sex sequences revolving around Christian’s BDSM and sadomasochist kinks. The arrival of a cinematic adaptation 3 years ago was destined for box office greatness following the international success of James’ novel (originally preconceived as a Twilight fan fiction) because people simply cannot resist the temptation of unadulterated sex scenes.
What’s more, the first Fifty Shades had big-budget production value and respectable creative input on its side. British artist Sam Taylor-Johnson (NOWHERE BOY) bravely took the reigns and you’d be easily forgiven for attending a screening with expectations that maybe it could be something more than pure ‘trash’. With Johnson’s slick perspective, it is possible to even defend some of the raunchy, erotic scenes as stylish and well executed. Alongside a stellar soundtrack of 2015’s most popular artists and the charm of Johnson, it was a film that could be enjoyed by the masses of romantic genre lovers (proven you completely disregard an appalling script and far worse narrative misogyny).
But, the same can most definitely not be said for the follow-up Darker, which has an admirably low score of just 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is here the series fast tracks down an irredeemably bad path to the 7th circle of film-hell. With Taylor-Johnson replaced by James Foley and James’ husband pulled in for the scriptwriting (we can only assume because no one else wanted to be involved) makes for a dull, unentertaining and ludicrous sequel. The narrative also takes a far darker and more sinister turn, with Christian eventually revealing he is a sadist towards his female subordinates in an attempt to gain internal revenge against his crack-addicted dead mother. Yeah, you read that right. Ana’s unwavering submissiveness to Christian’s demands – such as stopping her from going on a work trip abroad, having hired staff to follow her and buying all of her photographic portraits to ensure no one else can gawk at her – creates an unsettling aura. Are we expected to find his complete control sexy? Is all supposed to be forgotten once Dornan strips and sedudes Johnson? With all this said, it is beyond understanding and reasoning as to why anyone would want to endure the final addition to the series.
So, what can we expect from the final episode of Christian and Ana’s ‘love’ story? Well, the return of both Foley and James instantly confirms already low expectations. With a decent artistic vision in the form of adequate directing and scriptwriting, there’s potential to dismantle the novel’s diabolical narrative and perhaps provide a mildly entertaining and sufficient finale (like Taylor-Johnson desperately attempted in 2015). But, alas, such expectations should be wildly discarded. It’s almost certain Foley and Leonard’s second collaboration will provide something equally distasteful, perhaps more so, than their first sequel. The film’s tagline states ‘don’t miss the climax’, promising it to be just as ‘steamy’ as the prequels.
The trailer introduces the recently married couple, with Christian’s ‘Good morning, wife’ to Ana’s ‘Good morning, husband’ revealing some of the stellar dialogue we can expect to endure in Freed. In the prequel, Ana’s boss-turned-stalker loomed in the film’s closing sequence, giving this film our ‘baddie’ and turning the film into a more action-based thriller than a ‘romantic’ long-winded sexual roleplay.
We’ll have to wait to find out if the third film adds anything remotely interesting or promising to the series, but it definitely doesn’t look optimistic. Stay tuned for a review!
Fifty Shades Darker is released in cinemas today.